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Just like 2014, retirements pave the way for Kerry young guns to shine

The Kingdom have reached another All-Ireland final after losing several veterans in the off-season.

KERRY WENT INTO the 2014 championship minus several experienced campaigners that put them way down in the All-Ireland pecking order at the outset of the summer.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice was entering his second year in charge of the county when he lost Tomás Ó Sé and Eoin Brosnan to retirement the previous winter.

At the start of February, Paul Galvin followed the pair by hanging up his boots. 

paul-flynn-with-tomas-o-se-and-paul-galvin Tomas Ó Sé and Paul Galvin retired after 2013. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Just weeks later, Colm Cooper suffered a devastating knee injury while on club duty – tearing his ACL and fracturing his kneecap to effectively rule him out for the rest of the year. 

So in a matter of months, the Kingdom were down four key veterans. Yet that September, they were toasting an unlikely All-Ireland success after outsmarting favourites Donegal -who dethroned Dublin weeks earlier – in the final.

Ó Sé later spoke about his regrets at retiring a year too early, while Galvin rowed back on his decision and returned for the 2015 season. Cooper was reportedly flying in training by the time the final came around and he made the matchday panel for the decider, but didn’t make his playing return until the following year.

In the absence of such an experienced cohort, the younger players were forced to step up. Many of the players Fitzmaurice trained at U21 level established themselves in the team during that campaign as he safely navigated the transition away from the great team that reached seven All-Ireland finals between 2004 and 2011.

James O’Donoghue, then a student in UL, shouldered the scoring burden to make up for the Gooch-shaped hole in the attack. He deservedly won Footballer of the Year after scoring 4-24 in an electric summer.

kerry-players-celebrate-with-the-sam-maguire-cup James O'Donoghue and his team-mates celebrate with the Sam Maguire in 2014. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Stephen O’Brien made his debut during the league and went on to start the All-Ireland final in the half-forward role that Galvin vacated. And Paul Murphy, another rookie in 2014, donned the number five jersey that Ó Sé wore with distinction for years, winning man-of-the-match in the final. 

So while Kerry lost starters of real substance in Ó Sé, Galvin and Cooper, their replacements Murphy, O’Brien and O’Donoghue were ready to make the step up. The timing proved perfect and all three remain integral members of the current panel, although injury has badly hampered O’Donoghue ever since.

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The winds of change blew across the Kingdom once again this past off-season. Fitzmaurice stepped down following the conclusion of their Super 8s campaign in July and he was followed out the exit door by several loyal servants.

One by one, Kieran Donaghy, Donnchadh Walsh, Anthony Maher and Darran O’Sullivan called time on their careers.

Peter Keane assumed the hot seat and didn’t include Fionn Fitzgerald or Barry John Keane in his new squad. Then Peter Crowley was ruled out for the season with a torn ACL in March. He did reintroduce Tommy Walsh, Jack Sherwood and Jonathan Lyne, who had departed during the previous regime. 

darach-oconnor-with-paul-murphy Paul Murphy replaced Tomás Ó Sé on the Kerry half-back line in 2014. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Unlike Fitzmaurice in 2014 when he brought through members of an U21 team that had lost in Munster to Cork, Keane had a plethora of All-Ireland winning minors to choose from. Of the 21 that featured the semi-final against Tyrone, Shane Ryan,  Gavin Crowley, Dara Moynihan, Adrian Spillane and Killian Spillane all made their first championship starts under Keane this year.

Diarmuid O’Connor was an unused substitute the last day but was also handed his debut this summer, while Jason Foley, Brian Ó Beaglaoich, Tom O’Sullivan, Gavin White, Sean O’Shea and David Clifford are all aged 23 or under and regular starters under Keane, although Fitzmaurice was the one who first blooded them at senior level.

If Kerry are to upset the odds this afternoon, it’ll be through the youthful exuberance of the new kids on the block that downs Dublin. 

Just like in 2014, when the departures of multiple All-Ireland winners paved the way for O’Donoghue, O’Brien and Murphy to shine, we may look back on the string of 2018 retirements as a sliding doors moment for the younger members of Keane’s panel.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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